Published on February 22, 2022

Pebble Beach Company Foundation, Montage Health Foundation, and Ohana partner with local middle schools for teen mental health



Monica Sciuto, Montage Health/Ohana, (831) 622-2756
Susan Merfeld, Pebble Beach Company Foundation, (831) 649-7651

MONTEREY, Calif. — Pebble Beach Company Foundation, Montage Health Foundation, Ohana, and the Monterey Peninsula Unified School District (MPUSD) have partnered to launch a new three-year initiative to bring youth mental wellness programming and social-emotional learning opportunities to middle school children in Marina, Seaside, and Monterey. The initiative is made possible thanks to a $150,000 grant from Pebble Beach Company Foundation, awarded to Montage Health Foundation. Montage Health Foundation matched Pebble Beach Company Foundation’s grant with an additional $150,000 grant. Rates of anxiety and depression are rising in young people, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. This initiative hopes to help combat the growing youth mental health crisis by serving as a prevention and early-intervention resource.

In the spring of 2021, the Pebble Beach Company Foundation Board of Directors surveyed more than 50 educators across the county, representing pre-kindergarten to college-level students, to hear, firsthand, what they believed are the main challenges facing youth today. The overwhelming response was mental health. "Emotional wellbeing is fundamental to academic achievement," says Susan Merfeld, president, Pebble Beach Company Foundation, and senior vice president, Community Affairs. "A child cannot focus on learning when struggling with mental wellness. Our Foundation’s mission is to provide educational opportunities and a brighter future for all Monterey County youth. We heard, in these survey responses, an opportunity to make a difference."

That opportunity presented itself when the Pebble Beach Company Foundation connected with leaders from Montage Health Foundation and Ohana – Montage Health’s innovative child and adolescent mental and behavioral health initiative. Montage Health Foundation was looking for community partners to help expand Ohana programs to reach more young people in their daily lives, to strengthen social-emotional skills and reduce the rates of mental health challenges that require treatment in a clinical setting. The three organizations discussed their shared goals, and identified MPUSD as an additional partner to help launch a three-year pilot program. 

“This is exactly the type of impactful community partnership we want to help build,” says Kevin Causey, vice president and chief development officer of Montage Health Foundation. “We all share the goal of improving mental wellness for young people in our community — and by partnering with mission-driven, local organizations like the Pebble Beach Company Foundation, Ohana, and MPUSD, we can make a more profound and long-lasting impact for our community.”

Even pre-pandemic, mental health issues among kids were of considerable concern to MPUSD Superintendent PK Diffenbaugh. Yet the impact COVID has had on students and their mental health, he says, cannot be overstated. "We find among students," he says, "an increase in self-harm, cutting, suicide ideation, depression, anorexia, and social isolation, at a scale we have not seen before. This raises a huge concern for us as educators.” MPUSD has done a lot to create an infrastructure to support social and emotional wellbeing, he says, but the district lacks the expertise to support students with the range of acute needs at the scale they have been experiencing.

Through this new initiative, starting in late February of 2022, Ohana will provide a child therapist to work with groups of students within all three MPUSD middle schools (Los Arboles, Seaside Middle, and Walter Colton) thanks to grant funding from Pebble Beach Company Foundation and Montage Health Foundation. Molly Hansen, LMFT at Ohana, will implement the program. Hansen is an experienced, school-based therapist and is already making herself present on each campus, so students can become familiar with her and so she can tailor services based on the needs at each school.

The initiative will serve middle school campuses because age is a real turning point for many young people in terms of identity, sense of self, and sense of the world. Middle school typically is an extremely difficult time in adolescence and young adulthood. The goal of the initiative is to build students’ skills around self-awareness, emotional resilience, and social awareness including how to help friends who are struggling. Initially, the project will focus on eighth grade students as they prepare for their high school years. Students will participate in small and large groups where they’ll be able to build these critical skills.

“All the way through 12th grade, kids are developing their psychological immunity by dealing with uncomfortable emotions, having new experiences with people, building meaningful relationships, mastering a challenge,” says Dr. Susan Swick, executive director of Ohana, “It’s all pretty messy, fraught with tears and falls and scuffed-up knees, like learning to ride a bike. But at the end, they learn they can master these challenges, that they can address and resolve issues. Our goal is to help kids develop skills and thrive, to help them understand that difficulty is part of growth and joy, and to help their parents recognize this, as well. Any time we can interact directly with kids to work on skill building, we’re excited to do it.”


About Montage Health Foundation
Montage Health Foundation’s mission is to inspire giving that enhances and improves the health of the entire community. Gifts to the foundation take healthcare to the homeless, build mental health programs for young people, recruit primary care doctors and specialists, teach kids to eat better and exercise more, sustain a hospital that sustains the community, and much more. The foundation is guided by a board of community members who are passionate about the work and impact of Montage Health and its family of companies, including Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula. Call (831) 658-3630 or visit for more information.

About Ohana
Ohana is a child, adolescent, and family psychiatry program of Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula. Created in 2018 after a landmark gift from Bertie Bialek Elliott, Ohana’s vision is to create a community in which every child can flourish because they and their families have the knowledge, skills and support they need in order to grow into healthy and resilient adults. Ohana, a Hawaiian word, meaning family, is a family-centered program that provides access to high-quality diagnostic and evidence-based treatments for youth who are experiencing mental illness and focuses on helping youth and families develop mental health to prevent illnesses before they start.

About Pebble Beach Company Foundation
For over 45 years, Pebble Beach Company Foundation has partnered with Monterey County’s best youth-focused nonprofits working to address the significant needs of our community, and share the core belief that every child in Monterey County deserves the chance to achieve their full potential.